The president will outline a new effort to increase the nation’s use of crop-based fuels. An earlier plan, hampered by the financial crisis and other factors, wasn’t up to snuff, officials say.

Obama kicks biofuel strategy into higher gear

Reporting from Washington – The Obama administration today will unveil a revamped strategy to ramp up the nation’s use of biofuel in hopes of fixing a government effort that officials admit has fallen short in its attempts to wean cars and trucks away from fossil fuels and move toward ethanol, biodiesel and other crop-based fuels.

The new strategy, which the president will outline in an afternoon meeting with Cabinet secretaries and his top energy advisor, seeks to put the United States on track to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 — the amount mandated by Congress in the 2007 energy bill.

The nation currently produces about 12 billion gallons, mostly from corn ethanol, and the federal government projects the country will not meet the 2022 goal.

White House officials say biofuel production has been hampered by a chill in private lending due to the financial crisis, by the lack of an “explicit” government management plan for biofuels and by a variety of issues in the cultivation and delivery to market of such fuels.

To meet the 2022 target, the White House stated in a fact sheet today, “We will need a more strategic approach that in a new way unleashes the creativity and skills of people in government, in college laboratories, in the garages of aspiring entrepreneurs, and in the R&D facilities of the private sector. … We will have work in a new way and set much more aggressive internal benchmarks for progress.”

Under the new approach, federal agencies will start from the 2022 goal and work backward, setting milestones for progress to ensure the effort is on track.

Agencies such as the Agriculture and Energy departments will coordinate their research, particularly on second- and third-generation fuels that are far more energy efficient than corn ethanol and, ultimately, would be able to replace gasoline in cars with no modification to existing fuel systems. The agencies also will work to build regional supply chains to ensure that all parts of the country can use biofuels and to make sure that new fuels “are compatible with the U.S. transportation fuel infrastructure.”

The White House plans to pitch the effort as a job-creator in rural communities.

But biofuels are not without their controversies. Critics say increased fuel production could push food prices higher, and the administration is mulling a so-called “low-carbon fuel standard” that could penalize some forms of ethanol production for resulting in relatively high amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.